Tom Carson

Tom Carson won two National Magazine Awards during his stint as Esquire's "Screen" columnist and has been nominated twice more as GQ's movie reviewer. Formerly a staff writer at LA Weekly and The Village Voice, he is the author of Gilligan's Wake (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2003) and Daisy Buchanan's Daughter.

Recent Articles

Pope Francis's "Cardinal" Rules

Thinking about Otto Preminger's film 50 years later in the context of Pope Francis.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
What to make of last year's onslaught of Francismania? Like the sucker for pop-culture phenomenons I am, I haven't enjoyed anything so much since the Harry Potter books took off. As a veteran secular humanist, I can't help feeling some simpatico with the killjoys striving to remind us that the first Pope in memory to rate an affectionate New Yorker cover still presides over an essentially reactionary organization whose core doctrines haven't changed. But all the same, screw it: they're messing with everybody else's good time . Those of us without a dogma in this hunt just dig waiting for Pope Frank's next Bob Newhart-ish "He said that??" surprise, even as we relish the consternation he's provoked in everybody from Rush Limbaugh—"pure Marxism," the great man flatulated—to Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who fretted that Francis doesn't understand how good rich Americans are. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had to reassure Langone that the latest Pontiff does indeed love his flock's...

Peter O'Toole, Always in Character

The actor, who died earlier this week at the age of 81, turned every role into a feat of concentrated charm and wit. 

In a fantasy sequence in the 1967 movie Casino Royale—not a straight Bond flick, like the 2006 version, but a famously messy spoof—Peter Sellers, playing one of several rival 007s, sees a haggard-looking Scots bagpiper emerge from soundstage fog. "Are you Richard Burton?" the piper asks, and Sellers retorts, "No, I'm Peter O'Toole!" At which the piper—played by O'Toole himself—is overcome by emotion. "Then you're the finest man who ever breathed," he says, and vanishes into the mist. What's nice is that O'Toole has the wit to say it in character—that is, in character as a demented Scots piper who reveres Peter O'Toole, with nary a hint of a wink to the audience. It's not just that he obviously knew it would be funnier that way, and we can only imagine how Burton's peculiarly preening self-contempt would have soured the cameo. No matter how silly the job at hand was, O'Toole just couldn't help acting. But he also seldom made it look like a job, which was a key part of his charm during...

"Spring Breakers" Was the Best Movie of the Year. Seriously.

It was imbecilic but gorgeous—just like America. 

AP Images/A24 Films
F irst off, some disclaimers: I haven't seen Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis yet. I thought 12 Years A Slave and Gravity were both just swell, and I had a great time at Ron Howard's unexpectedly lively—and worldly— Rush. In spite of groaning at Woody Allen's bald-faced hijacking of A Streetcar Named Desire and his Rip Van Winkle unfamiliarity with the current century, I even got semi-down with Blue Jasmine, and so on. But that said, as we gear up to dispatch 2013 to the rear-view mirror, there's no contest when it comes to naming my favorite American movie of the year. That would be Spring Breakers, cult director Harmony Korine's sleaze-addicted, druggily impressionistic—and wondrously beautiful—tale of vacuous college girls gone wild in St. Pete. It features bare breasts galore, surreally goofy robberies and mayhem, and an all but unrecognizable James Franco wearing what look like brass knuckles on his teeth as a white rapper/wannabe gangsta named Alien. Will you believe me...

Sondheim Looks Back

The composer reflects on his storied Broadway career in a new HBO documentary. 

AP Images/Henny Ray Abrams
S tephen Sondheim is such an engaging and peppery talker about his own work that any run-of-the-mill documentarian—one unafflicted by genuinely terrible bad breath, anyway—could probably get gold just by turning on the camera. But Six by Sondheim, which airs on HBO on Monday, isn’t run-of-the-mill at all. Directed by the composer’s longtime stage collaborator, James Lapine, this openly celebratory doc is elaborately built around a half dozen capstone songs in Sondheim’s career, from Company’ s “Being Alive” to (duh) “Send in The Clowns” to Sunday in The Park With George ’s climactic ode. Several of the numbers get full-on restaging—Todd Haynes guest-directs a stone-brilliant version of Follies’ “I’m Still Here”—and the interview segments are stitched together from TV Q&A’s stretching over five decades along with Lapine’s own. This kind of homage can easily turn precious and/or smug, of course. To tell the truth, that’s what I was betting on. Luckily for viewers, Sondheim himself...

Another Note for the Bettie Page Files

A new documentary, Bettie Page Reveals All, provides not only a bonanza of images of the proto-hipster pinup girl in her prime, but her later-in-life musings as well. 

 

It's fun to think of Bettie Page as not only Jackie Kennedy's secret 20th-century sister but as Hugh Hefner's female rival. Six decades ago, Playboy 's incredibly dull founder created an empire that turned women into interchangeable sex objects in the guise of liberating Americans from their Puritan hangups. All Page had to counter him with was a body that couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's and an extraordinarily expressive face. Hef made millions while Page posed for chump change for amateur shutterbugs, at least until softcore fetish king Irving Klaw and then pinup photographer Bunny Yeager recognized her uniqueness and she wound up in Playboy itself. And yet she won; she beat him. Hefner and Playboy are both still with us, but so is Ovaltine—and when was the last time you had any? Page, who died in 2008, is not only the most iconic sexual image of midcentury's louche subcultures but a 21st-century heroine to hipsters and feminists alike. Kids who don't give two hoots about...

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